Friday, March 24, 2017

I like da hot stuff, mon!

It’s the final day of our Western Caribbean cruise. We are “At Sea” heading back to Fort Lauderdale for our flight home tomorrow morning. Boo and hiss.

As is always seemingly my way on the last day of cruising, I have been busying myself perusing catalogs for future ocean jaunts. Today I am dreaming of British Isles itineraries or perhaps spending my 50th birthday next year on a ship heading to Cape Horn and the Strait of Magellan. Rob says he’s not a big fan of potentially visiting South America. Thus I have several months to convince him of the wonders of Chilean wine and Argentinean beef. Yes, with me…as with cruising…it’s often all about the eating.

Sadly, truth be told, I haven’t been wowed by the food on this trip. Our excursion in the Yucatan Peninsula yesterday included an underwhelming Mexican buffet lunch that featured cold spaghetti. Seriously?? Spaghetti? In Mexico? At a tourist stop? What’s wrong with tacos? Don’t even get me started on the cold part. Sheesh!

I boycotted the pasta and instead tried ceviche for the first time. Although our tour guide, Carlos, said it was fantastic, I quietly concluded it was sort of boring. I always thought ceviche was a type fish, like tilapia or mahi mahi or something else aquatic with a lot of vowels. Turns out ceviche is pico de gallo (salsa) with white, mostly flavorless fish chunks thrown in that look suspiciously like large pieces of onions. I wonder if I’ve actually had ceviche before and just thought I was enjoying a very oniony salsa?

A couple of days ago I also ventured out beyond the Tourism Village in Belize City to try some authentic rice and beans that our Creole tour guide recommended. I typically find rice and beans to be pretty bland and reserve my stomach space for other more intriguing options. But Miss Patty’s rice and beans were absolutely the tastiest I’ve ever had.

Best I can tell, Miss Patty cooks her selections of rice (regular or vegetarian), meat (chicken or fish), and potato salad from scratch every morning. Her kitchen consists of one cook top and 5 large cast iron pots. The folks ordering from her small take-out window were all locals, most with name tags from the neighboring stores catering to people who look a lot like me with my fresh sunburns, athletic shoes, and wallets stuffed with American dollars.

Standing carefully on the worn but sturdy wooden pallet, I placed my order for regular rice and beans with chicken. Miss Patty seemed happily shy when I asked if I could take her picture. Then, being a smart business woman, she recommended I also make sure to get a picture of her sign (which wasn’t a great picture well since I really wanted a photo of her not her sign).

The rice was made with coconut milk; I think that was the difference in both the taste and texture that made Miss Patty’s concoction so much better than any prior version I’ve sampled. My lunch livened up even more with the Fiery Hot Habanero sauce that was provided on the picnic table.

The local woman sharing the table with us warned me that the locally made condiment was spicy hot. Rob explained I hold the heat record at a Thai restaurant at home (45 stars of heat out of the 4 stars they offer on their menu). The woman sized me up, looked unconvinced, shrugged her shoulders in a “I tried to warn you” way, and went back to her lunch.

I typically don’t like Habanero sauces; they are usually all heat and no flavor. This one, though (Marie Sharps – I bought a bottle as my Belizean souvenir), was the perfect blend of heat and sweet pepper deliciousness. I shook a half-dozen drops on my rice to sample it and then returned to the bottle several times during my lunch. It, like the rice and beans, was the best version I’d ever had. Yay international food adventures!

I have to admit, I’m pretty proud of what happened next.

As I was finishing up my rice and beans, a very local, very dark, very dreadlocked man came over to the table to talk to our neighbor. When he was done, he turned to me with dark, relaxed eyes and said, “She like da hot stuff!” He explained with appreciative nods and the most awesome respect and surprise that he had been watching me douse my rice and beans with Maggie Sharp. Getting props from a local Belizean for my heat tolerance pretty much made up for not seeing any crocodiles on our airboat ride earlier in the day.

So yes, airboat ride in Belize and then an all-day tour to see some Mayan ruins sort of near Cancun, Mexico rounded out our excursions for this trip. The airboat was relaxing and the fast breeze was extraordinarily welcomed in the heat and humidity.

The Mayan ruins were surprisingly interesting. Turns out I knew next to nothing about the Mayan culture other than that the Mayans sort of died out (not completely true) and they predicted the end of the world a few years ago (not at all true once you understand their calendar-making history).

Thanks to a free drink ticket with our spaghetti lunch, I also decided I shall be scouring Hispanic markets at home for a bottled drink called PeƱafiel Limonada (it’s sparkling lemonade), and that the local beer called Sol tastes like college. I also could not comprehend that it was legal for me to sample the cheap, watery memory on the tour bus. While we were driving. With my container of alcohol opened and everything. Despite Carlos’s assurances neither of us would get arrested, I still felt like I had to take clandestine sips of the swill. Please note: I did not finish it.

We will be home late tomorrow, a bit more sunburned and a bit less relaxed than hoped. Rob’s tooth chipped a few days ago, so that has been distracting. And I’ve determined that 5 full days on a cruise ship doesn’t lend itself to quite as much downtime as my mind and body need. With lots of floors to explore and stairs to climb and restaurants to sample and excursions to go on, I feel like today I am finally ready to begin doing nothing.

And instead it is time to pack.

Tuesday, March 21, 2017

Touring the Caribbean like a BOSS

One night, back in January when we were iced in for a week or so, Rob and I planned our annual “Let’s Find the Sun” trip. It’s a promise we made to ourselves when we decided to move from not-quite-perpetually-sunny-but-close-enough California to the not-quite-perpetually-rainy-but-close-enough Pacific Northwest. The promise to have a planned escape every year to some place warm, sunny, and mostly dry.

So last January, when we were a little punchy from all the snow and ice, we decided to book this year’s LFTST. One of us might have been sipping a snowgarita at the time. It made immense sense then…and thankfully also the next morning…when we declared this year’s escape to be to the Western Caribbean. Via cruise ship. Because it sounded perfectly glorious.

We’ve been on the Caribbean Princess for a few days now. We still have a few days to go. I’m currently wearing a slightly damp swim suit, no make-up, and the tops of both of my feet are slightly sunburned despite what I thought was more than adequate applications of SPF 30. In other words, a perfect vacation so far.

I’m elated and grateful to report that my new ACL is handling my cruising “no elevator rule” like a champ. It even successfully managed a few flights of stairs last night in some substantial heels for Formal Night before I conceded to the wisdom of not pushing things (Formal Night is the only exception I allow to the NER in which I ride in the electrical box with other woman wearing non-sensible shoes).

A couple of nights ago, Rob and I proved ourselves to officially be Smarter Than A Crew Member with a 20 question trivia game. We have a ribbon-festooned bottle of champagne to prove it. Truth be told, Rob could have won by himself; I would have come in second place. He knows his currencies better than I do, although neither of us knows birthstones very well. My biggest contribution was the absolute certainty of the year the Space Shuttle Challenger exploded. One of those indelible memories from my senior year of high school (1986).

Last night I convinced Rob we should attend the highlight entertainment event for the cruise – a stage production called “Piano Man.” It consisted of very young and mostly synchronized dancers belting out the greatest hits of Billy Joel, Barry Manilow, and Elton John. It immediately struck me and my gray hair that I could not compare childhood or adolescent memories of the songs with any of the whipper snappers performing them. I wondered with a sigh if any of them knew the songs before they were handed the music.

I also now have a much richer and deeper appreciation for the magic and wonder of Elton John’s voice. Hearing it butchered by well-intentioned Millennials nearly drove me in search of Isaac’s rum punch at the Pirate’s Cove Bar.

Today was our first port of play. We spent the day in Honduras. Specifically in the warm turquoise waters off the Island of Roatan. I was honestly a little surprised at first that Honduras is a tourist destination. I remember thinking it was a pretty scary place when I was a kid in the 1980s.

But scary no more! Especially since we signed up for an excursion that just looked too hysterical and goofy to pass up. Rest assured, I will have pictures of us to share as soon as we get home but for now, feast your eyes on this novel way to explore pretty fishies and coral and other underwater Caribbean life:

Yes, those are underwater motor scooters complete with cartoon-inspired bubble helmets!! And they were a BLAST!!

(Note: BOSS = Breathing Observation Submersible Scooter ™)

All the instructions seemed easy enough, until I forgot every single one of them due to the enchantment of riding a scooter through the ocean. I had to take two tries to get my head in the bubble, and it took some patience to get my ears to pop appropriately as I descended. But once I was set, I couldn’t stop smiling. I kept looking at Rob in his bubble and could only imagine how ridiculously fun I looked in mine.

Once our group of 10 was mounted and breathing without ear pain, we were given the signal to start following our dive master who was SCUBAing in front of us. As soon as I pushed the little throttle button on my BOSS scooter, I laughed so loud my entire bubble echoed. I am pretty sure I scared some fish. Motoring around in the ocean was so dang hysterical, I just kept laughing and sort of forgot I was supposed to be looking at fish and coral and stuff.

Instead, I kept steering left and right in search of Rob so I could try to take his picture with my disposable underwater camera. We had been warned that the bubbles would distort proportions. Indeed, Rob’s body looked large and his head looked small. Cue more laughing. He was SO ADORABLE!

We propelled around a reef for about a half hour. Apparently there was a big manta ray in the distance but I never saw it. I had to settle for seeing a baby stingray skimming the water next to the pier as we were later walking back to the ship. That was still pretty darn cool. We also got to snorkel for about an hour. I got to see all sorts of fishies that don’t live in Kauai and I proudly managed the entire water excursion without even a hint of hyperventilating. Maybe my water phobia days are finally behind me?

Tomorrow we are either whetting an appetite for a future, dedicated trip OR we are crossing a destination off my Travel Wish List. Either way, we will be in Belize…soaking up more glorious sun and hopefully not adding to my sunburn.

Friday, March 3, 2017

Life lessons from the disco

A public figure I follow on Facebook recently posed the question “What movie traumatized you as a kid?” She is in her 40s and still harbors a bird phobia that she traces to watching Hitchcock’s “The Birds” way back when.

Scrolling through the couple hundred replies, many folks were suitably traumatized by horror flicks such as “Poltergeist” and “The Shining” and “Jaws.” Others still remember the emotional scars from watching “Old Yeller” and “Where the Red Fern Grows” (yeah, that was the first time I remember crying due to a movie’s story line. I was 5 and so very sad about those doggies!). One of the more popular answers was “The Wizard of Oz” – the flying monkeys in particular.

No surprise, my answer is nowhere to be found.

“Saturday Night Fever” for childhood trauma, anyone?

It was 1978. I was in the 4th grade, 10 years old. The Bee Gees were all over the radio, white leisure suits were all the rage, and Welcome Back Kotter’s Vinnie Barbarino was on the big screen. It was heady times.

As kids do, there was LOTS of talk on the playground about the movie. Girls debated which Bee Gee was the cutest (Barry, duh) and many…especially the popular ones…spoke as if they had seen the movie their very own selves. It was R-rated so I was highly impressed and mightily dumbfounded that their parents had allowed the underaged viewing. Ah, the mysterious life of The Popular Girls.

More and more, it was obvious that I was the only kid in my class who hadn’t seen “Saturday Night Fever.” Oh, the ostracization.

Meanwhile, I had my eye on some very trendy sandals. They were tan with spongey soles and the closest thing to a platform shoe that a grade-schooler could wear. Many girls at my school had the fancy-brand version. I spied some knockoffs at Thom McAn that I thought might be close enough to fly under the radar of the Brand Name Police.

Bowing under the suffocating weight of being desperate to fit in (I never truly did fit in, for which I am now grateful), I begged my parents for both Golden Tickets to 4th grade girl acceptance: I HAD to see “Saturday Night Fever” and I NEEDED those sandals.

Now, most parents would have probably said no to both before reminding me I needed to clean my room. However, my parents were slyly teaching me how to make decisions so this was yet another opportunity for education. The choice was simple: they would buy me the sandals OR they would accompany me to the movie. Only one. My choice. And no arguing or pleading after my decision was made.

I suspect Mom and Dad were certain I would pick the sandals. I mean, really – a fleeting 2 hours in a movie theater versus months of fashion-forward footwear? Duh!


Off to the theater we went.

I don’t remember getting any strange looks as my dad bought the tickets for the three of us to see my first R-rated movie. But I do remember being the only kid in a single-digit grade in the theater. And I remember – vividly – being seated in the middle: Mom on one side, Dad on the other.

The music was awesome and familiar. The dancing was magical and intoxicating. The clingy disco fashions were so sophisticated.

But the potty-mouth language shocked me and made me squirm. The packet of birth control pills confused me and made me wish I hadn’t whispered to my mom for explanation. And Tony Manero was not Vinnie Barbarino…AT ALL.

However, it was sitting between my parents and suffering through the unbearable awkwardness of the sex-in-the-back-of-the-car scene that left the most traumatic scar.

John Travolta may have been stayin’ alive but I WANTED TO DIE! I desperately wanted to flee the theater. I was certain my parents sat me in the middle to trap me, to make me endure the torture of my bad decision. The sandals. The beautiful sandals. Dear God, why didn’t I pick the sandals?!?

I was beyond relieved when the credits finally rolled. I had hated the movie and the experience of seeing it. But at least…AT LEAST…I was no longer the only kid in the class who hadn’t seen it. I couldn’t wait to get to school and discuss the movie with confidence.

Ready to defend my Siskel & Ebert THUMBS DOWN review with passion and conviction, I was flabbergasted to discover not a single kid in my class had actually seen “Saturday Night Fever.” As I referenced scenes and dialog, I got blank stares and silence.

One of the popular girls sneered at my confusion and reprimanded, “Toni, it’s rated R. We’re not allowed to see it. It’s, like, illegal or something. Gawd.”

In that moment, I learned a lot more than my parents probably expected when they gave me the Movie or Sandals choice.

I learned that braggy kids are often liars. I learned that peer pressure is stupid. I learned that I was never going to be able to please the Popular Girls so it was probably dumb to keep trying. I learned that R-rated movies are gross. And I learned how to accept the disappointment of a bad decision…reinforced every time I longingly walked by the Thom McAn window.

So, traumatic for a 10-year-old, yes. But probably one of the most important life lessons I learned in 4th grade. Well, that and my multiplication tables (thank you, Mr. Magid).

Thursday, February 23, 2017

Calico no more

The past week has been filled with shock, excitement, doubt, acceptance, confusion, and reflection. Yes, we are once again talking about hair.

I got my second notable haircut of the Going Gray Adventure last week. Patti and I discussed all sorts of options about what next to do with my calico hair. Typically I wouldn’t have been sitting in her chair quite so soon. I’m hoping that I might be able to counter the chaos of my technicolor hair by having a controlled, more maintained hair style. So every four weeks it is. At least for now.

I told Patti I was pretty sure I didn’t want to do a super short pixie cut to hasten the adventure. I accidentally had one of those when I asked Rob to cut my hair. It was about 15 years ago and I was post-op enough after a back surgery to need a haircut but not post-op enough to be able to withstand the spinal torture of leaning back in the shampoo bowl and sitting for more than 15 minutes.

I was certain Rob would do a fine job, as my beloved roommate Zeke – a History major with no cosmetology education – had fabulously cut my hair numerous times in college.

However, as I emerged from Mr. Rob’s Coif and Cut looking like GI Jane, I immediately had newfound respect and admiration for Zeke’s innate clipper skills. I also discovered that my head is unattractively asymmetrical. I wore a baseball hat for three months.

So fearing a repeat of that memorable hair don’t, I told Patti she could do whatever she wanted with my hair except for a pixie cut.

Guess what I have?

I had no idea that dark patch was in the back.
It's also interesting that my natural color is
so much darker than my Truffle.

It’s not Patti’s fault. As she started scissoring away chunks of Garnier Truffle #50, we both got rather excited about the emerging silvers and whites. I told her to keep going and before I was really ready, I was staring at a version of myself I have never seen before. One week later, I’m still not very used to her.

Thankfully I don't have exceptionally
pointy ears.

Yep, no hiding it now!

Admittedly, the cut is better than Mr. Rob’s version 15 years ago. Something about training and licensing. But it’s still waaaay shorter and waaaaay grayer than I’m accustomed to seeing surrounding my face.

The wisps of Truffle left on the tips will probably be gone in 3 more weeks.
In other news, we look like we match now!  

I’ve taken my look out on tour. The day after I saw Patti, I got on a plane and spent almost a week surprising Rob’s family. To be honest, I was a bit nervous. Los Angeles is not a culture that heartily embraces women aging, gracefully or otherwise. And I always feel less primped and coiffed and pulled together when I’m surrounded by SoCal women who have a lot more knowledge and investment in appearance-type concerns.

I only caught a couple of stares from sun-kissed strangers. Who knows, maybe I just had some Double Double caught in my teeth and my hair wasn’t even noticed.

Gratefully, I got a number of very kind hair comments and supportive smiles from family and friends…after the shock wore off. My mother-in-law, bless her, even seemed disappointed towards the end of our visit when I said I plan to grow my hair out and not keep the pixie. With love, she told me I looked elfish and gamine (I had to Google it), referencing Audrey Hepburn. That was a benevolent stretch but still filled me with appreciation for her kind encouragement.

I also found myself feeling more attractive and feminine with my contacts instead of my glasses. Unfortunately, that also meant I had trouble reading menus and texts and hotel bills since I really need bifocals and it seemed ill advised to take my contacts out and put them on the top of my head while reading something up close. Today I’m back to glasses. Because, well, typing.

Having been home for a few days, I’m starting to get used to that look of wide-eyed, I-don’t-know-what-to-say, I’m-not-sure-I-like-it look on friends’ faces when they first see me. One of the kids in Youth Group last night expertly summed it up by exclaiming, “I didn’t expect it to be SO WHITE!”

I have moments when I’m totally digging the new look and feeling sassy and am totally embracing being my own penguin.

My parents bought me this print when I was in high school.
Its caption says "Dare to be Different."
I've tried my best to live up to it.

I love the excitement of this week-by-week evolution that at times has felt something like a caterpillar emerging into a butterfly.

But there are other moments when I am utterly mystified by the caught reflection in a window or a tablet screen. I see this person with short white hair and I don’t know who she is. But then I look at photos of myself from just a few months ago and all I see is synthetically dark brown hair that doesn’t seem to fit either.

I wasn’t bargaining for an identity crisis when I started this little adventure! But I’m starting to think that’s a foundational part of this experience…examining and defining who I really am on the doorstep of 50.

Thursday, February 9, 2017

Precheck this out!

I love to travel. Big cities, national parks, same time zone, across oceans. All of it. As I saw it, business trips were one of the biggest perks of my work life (Venezuela and Vietnam, anyone?). And although it took a few years and some compromises along the way, I am grateful that Rob seems to enjoy the suitcase life with some frequency, too. Especially since my chronic back issues make it very tricky to travel without a Sherpa.

We have something of a travel dance, Rob and I. Without much clarification or discussion, we know who is in charge of the reservation confirmations, boarding passes, and making sure all medications and electronics are packed. And we know who is in charge of wrangling the suitcases and figuring out how to get where we are going. We know which one of us gets the window seat and which one of us produces the credit card at reservation desks.

Things get really tricky…and rather painful…if I try to dance alone.

Thanks to some back issues, I shouldn’t lift anything heavier than 15 pounds. So getting suitcases on and off of shuttles and baggage carousels (I had to give up carry-ons when I gave up two discs in my lumbar region) and in and out of rental cars and up onto hotel suitcase stands is painful and potentially dangerous.

Getting through security is also tricky by myself since I’m a bit slow to put on my shoes and gather my special travel pillow and rearrange my coat and purse and anything else I have to untangle from. It’s always much easier when I have Rob keeping an eye on things as I pull myself back together amongst the metal detectors and plastic bins.

A little over a year ago, around Christmas, I flew south by myself for a Girls Weekend with a friend. I was super excited but also a little nervous. We had had a very busy month already with travel and houseguests and I was a little wiped out. The idea of navigating security and travel without my dance partner was verging on being overwhelming.

Exhausted and very much out of my attention-to-detail character, I didn’t notice until I approached the TSA line that my boarding pass contained the glorious code words “TSA PRE” printed above my name.

I had been randomly bestowed the "TSA Precheck" gift a few times before. It’s a beautiful designation that means you are pre-approved as a safe traveler and therefore do not need to perform a strip tease for the TSA agents.

Shoes, jackets, belts, watches…all of that can be worn as you strut your specially approved self through the metal detectors. That plastic baggie stuffed with lotion and hand sanitizer and other critical but limited liquids? Keep it tucked in your bag. No need to produce it for a show and tell for the agents and all the looky-loos in line with you. It’s like traveling pre-9/11 style. And it is awesome.

So back to the Girls Weekend.

As it dawned on me in the TSA line that I didn’t have to balance and bend to take off my shoes and I didn’t have to keep track of my back pillow AND my purse AND my jacket AND my baggie…that instead I could just put my purse and pillow on the conveyor belt and saunter through the detector…I almost burst into tears with gratitude. Meaning my eyes teared up but I didn’t sob and I sagely resisted the urge to hug every TSA agent in sight.

After waving to Rob from the other side of security, I texted him and suggested Santa might consider bringing me guaranteed TSA Precheck status for Christmas.

Less than two months later, it was so. Bless you, Santa Rob!

Thanks to a super easy online application process, a background check, some fingerprinting, some unflattering photos, and gleefully snagging some cancelled appointments at the airport, Rob and I have both been Known Travelers for a little over a year. For $85 each, we get to zip through security as many times as we want over five years. Because we paid a little extra ($15) for something called Global Entry, rumor has it US Customs will be much faster, too. With any luck, we’ll get to confirm that in the next year or so.

I’ve tested out my new flight status four times so far. All I have to do is enter my treat-me-special Known Traveler Number in my airline reservations. I’m still learning to trust that the system actually works so it remains a celebratory relief every time I verify “TSA PRE” is indeed printed on my boarding pass. So far it’s worked every time.

I’m also still getting used to the short line and the head spinning speed with which I whip through security now. On my last trip just a few weeks ago, I seriously think it took me less than two minutes from the time I was handing my driver’s license to the TSA guy to when I was heading to the nearest water fountain to fill my empty bottle. TWO MINUTES?!? All without having to disrobe or unpack. Inconceivable!

Given my physical limitations, I actually think this TSA Precheck thing is a steal even if I only flew two times per year. Over five years, it would be $20 per year or less. I would not blink at paying $10 extra to be able to bypass the long line and keep my shoes on. Have I mentioned the shoes? And how achy it is to take them off and put them on with a cranky back? Keep your grande decaf mocha and yogurt parfait, Starbucks. I wanna keep my shoes on!

We have a couple of trips planned over the next several months. I gotta admit, part of my jazzed, bouncy travel excitement is anticipating the wonders of TSA PRE and all that extra time I can spend at airports perusing magazines and gum options.

On our first flight last year using our TSA Precheck status.
One of us is slightly more ecstatic than the other.

Sunday, January 22, 2017

Embracing the gray underneath

Well, it’s been about 3.5 months since I boldly proclaimed that my days of coloring my hair were soon coming to an end (see Gray Matters post).

At the time I wasn’t sure exactly when I was going to ditch The Box. But once I said it aloud (or, rather, in writing), I found myself getting sort of excited by the idea of finding out what actual hair color lurks under my Garnier #50 Truffle helmet.

For a variety of reasons including tightwadiness (I still had two Truffle boxes from that sale several months ago) and vanity (our anniversary is in early December and I wanted to look good for our annual photo), I decided that my last dye job would be right before Thanksgiving. Specifically November 22, 2016 – two months ago today -- I did this for the very last time:

Yes, that is blue painters tape.  It works great for
keeping Truffle off your face.

I also threw away the old yellow terry cloth robe with the Truffle-stained collar that I have worn for years while waiting for the 30 minute timer to ding. Although my commitment to be done dying my hair was rather strong, I will admit I promised myself I could get a new Hair Coloring Robe at Goodwill if my resolve caved.

It’s been an intriguing few months, learning just how many brain cells I have been unwittingly dedicating to my hair color and chasing that gray root line.

I was first aware of my addiction when I received a bridal shower invitation for December 30. You know bridal showers? Where women get gussied up and pay extra attention to their make-up and get a manicure in preparation? Where women do their best to look their best for each other?

My first thought when I got the invitation was wondering, out of habit, where I would be in my hair color cycle and if I would need to plan a date with Truffle on the 29th. Then remembering I had broken up with Truffle, I panicked that I would be attending a bridal shower with who knows how many stray and unkempt gray hair strands screaming from my temples and part line.

In a moment of vanity and insecurity that surprised me, I briefly debated ditching the Going Gray experiment for the bridal shower and resuming in January. But I quickly realized if I did that, I would always be chasing the Right Time, waiting for those perfect 30-90 days in which I didn’t have to make any important public appearances. Like bridal showers or concerts or birthday parties or vacations or dentist appointments.

And so I resisted The Box. I attended the lovely bridal shower with gray hairs peeking through, desperately resisting the urge to explain in each conversation that I was not coloring my hair on purpose. Mind you, none of the conversations had anything to do with hair and I sensed absolutely no judgment or even recognition from the women there that my lack of color upkeep was an issue. But it sure surprised me how self-conscious I was about my hair. I didn’t like it.

That’s been the worst part of the past 60 days – feeling so dang self-conscious. With just enough gray showing that it was noticeable, but not enough that it was obvious that I was letting it grow on purpose, I felt like I looked lazy and tired. That maybe I had given up on my appearance and just didn’t care anymore. That I might as well be wearing my penguin pajama pants and llama t-shirt and orthotic Crocs, regardless if I was at Walmart or not.

I tried to pre-empt this angst by making my “going gray” intentions as public as possible. I rambled about it here, I announced it on Facebook, and I’ve mentioned it in any number of conversations with friends and family. I even told the kids in our Youth Group because, you know, teenagers care about hair, right? And that has helped ease the apprehension. Until a few days ago.

That’s when I got my second haircut of this grand adventure and when I got my first real peek at the silvers lurking under all this Truffle.

My hair stylist, Patti, is fantastic. She is 100% behind my decision to go gray and to do it cold turkey. She hasn’t tried to talk me out of it even though it could mean more money in her pocket if she did (highlights, lowlights, glazes, so many ways NOT to embrace my natural hair!). Judging from a Facebook group of women who are “Going Gray and Lovin’ It!” (I swear, there is a support group for everything), Patti is pretty unique in her support.

As Patti was clipping away a few days ago and oohing and ahhing, I was getting pretty excited about what she was unearthing. I had my glasses off and am pretty blind without them, so I was jazzed but unprepared for what greeted me in the mirror when I could finally see.

With silver sides and back and a Truffle top, the mishmash of colors was rather shocking. I just stared at myself in the mirror when I got to the car, determined not to cry. I felt like a calico cat and sort of wanted to just slink home with my tail between my legs even though I had planned to run some errands.

I was surprised by how insecure I suddenly was just because of my hair. Good grief, I’m staring 49 right between the eyes! I'm going to be brought down by hair? Really?

I gave myself a little pep talk. I know I am so much more than my hair. Unlike junior high – the last time I felt so annoyingly insecure about my appearance – I decided to embrace the weirdness and the discomfort and the self-consciousness and take my calico hair out for a public viewing.

And it was just fine.

Nobody cared about my hair at Kohl’s. Nobody cared about my hair at Jamba Juice. Nobody cared about my hair at Albertsons. The car wash attendant couldn’t have cared less about my hair. And the heavily primped greeters at Ulta did not direct me to the hair dye aisle as I feared they might. Exactly like junior high, the only person who was so acutely aware and judgmental of my appearance was me.

Feeling less slinky and more confident, I called out to Rob when I got home.

“My hair is a bit dramatic. Are you ready?”

When he opened his eyes as I stood in front of him, I searched his face for words he wasn’t yet speaking.

“It looks uniquely sophisticated. I like it. The cut AND the color. Both.”

Rob has trained me over the years that he will tell me the truth when I ask how something looks on me. If those pants make me look fat, believe you me he will tell me. As difficult as that can be at times, at other times…like this one…it is a huge gift to know that Rob is telling me his truth.

Feeling even more confident, I played with my new hair a bit, added the new lipstick I had bought just hours prior (retail therapy, anyone?), and posted this picture on the Going Gray Facebook page:

The page is an incredibly supportive, encouraging group of over 6,000 women all over the world. The common thread is we are all striving to embrace our natural hair color. The women share stories of wonderful support as well as terribly disheartening words from people in their lives who warn they are going to look old and tired if they stop coloring their hair. They provide tips on shampoo and make-up and glasses frames. And they share pictures of before, during, and after to take some of the scary mystery away. Scanning the photos for the past few months has shown me how utterly striking gray hair can be…even when it is growing out.

Within minutes of sharing my photo, a remarkable bath of warm words, kindness, compliments, and support was being poured over me. The reassurance, the love, the kindred friendship of women I do not even know was overwhelming and bolstering. The calico cat was suddenly feeling slinky in a whole new way.

So yesterday I walked around in public with confidence and even discovered that my silver hair now makes my black rain hat much more interesting.

I sort of wanted to find a flapper dress
to wear with the hat.  That never
occurred to me with Truffle hair.

I am also recognizing the importance of lipstick in making me feel pulled together while also brightening up my face a bit with its new silver frame.

Before "Wear on Wildberry" and after

Patti thinks my transition might be complete in just two more haircuts. This is incredibly fast, thanks to my hair growing quickly and my short style. Much to my surprise, now that I’m past that “does she know she needs to color her hair??” stage and have gotten past the shock, I’m actually really digging this weird palette of colors on my head. What had once been a bit of fear and trepidation about the hairy road ahead is now all excitement and anticipation.

Goodwill can keep its robes.

Wednesday, January 18, 2017

Winter Wallop of 2017

Portland Metro Resident: “We have weak and mostly mild winters around here.”
Winter 2017: “Hold my beer.”

Rob found that apt summary in a weather blog a few days ago while we were simultaneously under a freezing rain watch, a high wind advisory, and a flood watch. This after three “snow events” and an ice storm that had us bewildered as to when and why we moved to the Midwest.

We’ve been hunkered down at Woodhaven pretty much all year. Counting New Year’s Day until today, I think we got off our hill five times. It might have been four. Or maybe it was six? Everything’s sort of smushed together. Is today Monday or Saturday?

There was a Tuesday and a Friday and a Saturday that we escaped. We went to a birthday party, stood in line at Costco, and got burritos and pastrami sandwiches that somebody else cooked for us. Thank God. So tired of cooking.

One day last week, in between storms, we went to a local grocery store and stopped just after we entered. The people, the colors, the activity, the overwhelming food options. It was a lot to take in and it was intoxicating.

Glorious warm rain finally arrived yesterday. We saw our grass for the first time since New Year’s Eve. And our driveway. And color. So much color that wasn’t white!

This morning as I was leaving our neighborhood with the freedom lust of a 16-year-old who just got her driver’s license, I saw this:

I actually signaled to the guy so I could tell him how happy I was to see him.

“Yeah, we weren’t able to pick up anything last week,” he apologized over the sounds of breaking glass.

“We haven’t had any garbage or recycling pick-ups at all this year.”

He suddenly understood my unmitigated glee in seeing him.

So yeah, it’s been a very long 18 days. Lots of white, lots of cold, lots of ice, lots of stir crazy.

One of the better road days.  And sun!  And 20 degrees.  Sigh.

I’m happy to report that Rob and I still quite like each other after having spent nearly three weeks within beckoning distance of one other. The secret was keeping ourselves amused and occupied.

And so with that, here’s how I entertained myself during Snowpocalypse 2017:
  • Crocheted 2 headbands in hopes of stylishly hiding the skunk line that is boldly appearing in my second month of not coloring my hair. This after reintroducing myself to the finer points of a half-double crochet stitch via the wonders of YouTube and a patient guy named Mikey.
    Is it working?

  • Caught up on all seven of this season’s episodes of “Jane the Virgin” whom I was relieved to discover no longer has that title now that her hubby Michael has finally recovered from the gunshot fired by that woman who peeled her face off.  #telenovelasareweirdandaddictive
  • Made bread from scratch – TWICE! Fine, it was in my bread machine, but it still counts! I remain utterly mystified how I had all the ingredients on hand without any plans to bake…anything. I did however have to restock on flour today.
  • Calculated year-end taxes and W-2s for our two church employees, per my duties as the church treasurer. Also updated my handy payroll spreadsheet with federal withholdings calculations. Let it be known I completed these tasks earlier than I ever have in my 5 year treasurer tenure. Truly, there was no end to the snow captive excitement here at Woodhaven.

I also got into cleaning mode:
  • Cleaned out the filter on our front-loader washing machine. I was rewarded one penny and some black goop for my efforts.
  • Cleaned out the filter on our dishwasher. Rewarded more black goop and a piece of macaroni.
  • Dusted 10 sets of blinds. The long way, with a Swiffer thing. Mostly because it had been so long since I had cleaned them that the fast way with the vacuum cleaner still left enough dust to write in.

  • Cleaned out an overflowing folder of food-splattered recipes. They are now tidily organized in wipeable plastic sheet protectors in a binder with tabs and everything.
  • Cleaned out my cookbook stash. Yes, I sort of loathe cooking. As a result, I have an embarrassingly large collection of cookbooks, each one acquired with the prayer that it would be The Answer to my magically and successfully preparing healthy, delicious, fast meals with minimal effort. Note: despite promises, this cookbook does not exist. Many proofs of this deception may now be found at our local Goodwill thanks to Rob’s delivery this morning.
  • Organized my “fancy” shoe collection by taking pictures of each shoe and taping it on the end of the corresponding shoe box so I can literally see my options at a glance. Brilliant, I think. And only accomplished when one is housebound and already has clean blinds.

  • Lots of black heels, but each pair so very different in her own way.

  • Watched a video on the best way to fold socks. I promptly determined that the 15 second criss-cross-fold-tuck-and-flip method was way more work than baking bread in a bread machine and thus resigned myself to the inefficiencies of the Roll-and-Smash Method.
  • Cleaned out the fridge. Like, I took out food and shelves and attacked all surfaces with soap and a sponge. Unfortunately, my project significantly exacerbated the overflowing trash and recycling situation. However, I am proud to say that my most out-of-date item was only three years old: a largely unused bottle of stir fry sauce from 2014. Corresponding cookbook now featured at Goodwill.
Typically prominent but missing: copious take-out containers

And I got into online shopping mode:
  • Ordered some more fancy all-natural deodorant that I have been using for about six months. I’m usually not an all-natural-products sort of gal, but this stuff is awesome and the lavender scent is like aromatherapy in my armpits. Plus I *think* I might even be able to wear it to a mammogram. Which if you’ve ever had a mammogram scheduled for 4:00pm, you know is a pretty big deal. AND they send awesome confirmation emails.

  • Ordered some socks. Not just any old socks, authentic Sock Monkey socks. The really warm, brown kind with a red heel. I had planned to augment them with an adorable pair with monkeys on them, but inexplicably the pair I wanted is only available in kids’ sizes. I can’t say that’s the first time that’s happened.

  • Understated yet adorable sock monkeyness...for kids only.  Boo!

  • Convinced Rob to finally buy the snow plow attachment for our riding mower. We have a 4-6 hour shoveling driveway, depending how thick the snow is. After watching Rob clear our driveway twice within ten days, each time using an old fashioned shovel and many back muscles, I proclaimed “Never again!” The attachment should be arriving any day now, guaranteeing that Woodhaven will not see plowable snow again for at least 3 years.

  • Snow action shot!  And the beginning of a very long shovel day.

  • Booked a Caribbean cruise for March. Yes, we were cold and punchy and so very tired of seeing frozen water outside our windows. And one of us might have been sipping a snowgarita. But we hadn’t yet decided on our annual “Let’s Find the Sun Trip” so a cruise to a warm locale seemed like an inspired idea. Days later, now that we are thawed out and our lawn is green again and it got up to 51.9 degrees outside…still inspired? Yah man!
Snowgarita:  One blender full of lightly packed snow, tequila and mix to taste

  • Made of list of how I amused myself during my unplanned snowcation

Everyone's a winner!

Thursday, January 5, 2017

The write stuff

I like this space that Blogger has very kindly helped me carve out for myself. It’s a place I can give the words that knock around in my head a more permanent home. Rob can often tell when I have something to blog about. I start writing in my head. Phrases and word plays start to form. I go quiet because I am quite busy. I don’t speak because the conversation in my head is rather distracting.

Although this is the primary spot I give my words air, I also occasionally write in other forums. Dinky online magazines, organization newsletters, Trip Advisor reviews (I have 28,234 points…whatever that means), and the two larger newspapers in my county have all featured my thoughts in one way or another.

Since I don’t have any formal writing or journalistic training, I have relied on my best hunch how to write for these different audiences. My gut says the styles and tones and structures are different. What that exactly means and looks like, I really have no clue. So I take my best guess and write my best words and hope that they serve their purpose well.

The challenging part is when they don’t.

Through a series of conversations, divine timing, and heartbreaking events, I recently was given the opportunity to write a story about a friend whose inspiring battle with cancer ended a couple of weeks before Christmas. The newspaper that ran the story has gone through some pretty major changes since I last wrote for it about three years ago, not the least of which is the editor – my contact – is no longer there.

My new contact is a young man half my age pretty fresh out of journalism school. Which puts his training and on-the-job writing experience leaps and bounds beyond my own.

About a week and a half after JR died, I sat at his dining room table with his wife and a box of Kleenex.

My conversation with Gretchen was both blessed and therapeutic. Although I consider her and her family dear friends, my role as an interviewer allowed me to ask Gretchen questions I had never asked before. I got to know my friends on a different level, with new depth and expanded love.

With a page of notes in purple ink, I arrived home, nestled myself on our couch, and started writing. I had a very clear sense I was simply to write. No outlining, no organizing, no editing. Just writing.

I wasn’t quite sure how to start.

I read a text that JR sent one of his daughters shortly before he died. There was one quote I knew I wanted to use. I typed it into my document just to save it. As soon as JR’s words appeared on the top of my page, I knew I had my opening. The rest came rather easily from there.

I know very little about music. I’ve never played an instrument and I can’t read notes. But I have long sensed that words can be like songs. When I am writing, I often choose a word or insert a period or play around with clauses to impact the flow of my words. When my words and fingers are flowing best, it feels like a song is being composed. I sense pace and rhythm and beats.

As I wrote JR’s story, it became a love song. To him, his wife, and his three daughters. I had been adrift how to support and best love these dear women in their grief and in my own. I had taken food, I had given hugs, I had sent texts, I had even gone to a tattoo parlor (as an observer). But as I started writing, I realized that the one unique, totally personal gift I could give this beloved family was my words.

I sent Gretchen the draft for input and approval, further proving I am not a professional reporter. With a couple minor changes, I sent her and the newspaper my final version along with a carefully chosen photo of JR wearing his favorite sock monkey hat.

My contact thanked me for the piece, asked for a few more photos, and explained he would probably need to edit the article a little. I expected that. I had purposely not asked about word limits or any other guidelines; I knew I needed my words released without distraction. The prior editor had made small but important changes to my past articles. His decades of professional writing experience showed in small but mighty ways, making me even more appreciative of the opportunity to write for him.

JR’s story appeared yesterday.

I scanned the two photos. No sock monkey hat.

I read the article. No sock monkey hat story.

The rest of the words were all mine. No obvious changes, not even to punctuation. But the order was all different. Paragraphs that had been at the end were now at the beginning. Things were all jumbled around. What had once been an unfolding story of a goofy but Godly life concluding softly with a funeral bathed in tie dye and camouflage was now a choppy series of moments and memories that started with the funeral and ended even more abruptly.

I suppose to a newspaper person, I had “buried the lead.” To them, the story was probably the uniquely fun dying request of a man to have all attendees at his funeral wear either tie dye or camouflage. So they moved that part to the beginning and cut and pasted the rest in some order that made sense to them. It’s their newspaper. It’s their right and their job.

While the logical side of me understands the changes, the creative side of me is heartbroken. Those are my words but it’s no longer my song. The gift I wanted to give to Gretchen and her daughters has been rewrapped and repackaged.

Writing is a personal, vulnerable endeavor. Especially when you are sharing your heart. Which is pretty much what I always do when I write. A writer disagreeing with an editor is hardly novel. For those who write for a living, I imagine it’s as much a part of the experience as deadlines are. Which is one more reason why I am so in awe of people who carve a career from writing…and why I can’t imagine ever doing so myself.


JR's Story -- A Celebration of a Goofy, Godly Life

“Cancer’s gift is perspective. I’ve been given the last three years to spend time with my family and friends that many don’t get. I plan to keep living every day I have left as the blessing I’m being given.”

JR Roberts texted those words to his oldest daughter Kayleigh the day after Thanksgiving, just a few short weeks before his hard fought battle against Mantle Cell Lymphoma ended on December 12, 2016.

JR – who was not a fan of his given name of Wilford and went by the letters “JR” since a cousin already claimed the moniker “Junior” – spent most of his 47 years in Battle Ground. The only time spent living outside his home town was when JR was in the Marines training and then serving as a Combat Engineer in Iraq during the Gulf War. He graduated from Battle Ground High School in 1987. He was known to more recent Tigers as the owner and driving instructor at 1st Choice Driving School who loved to wear tie dye t-shirts.

JR met his wife of 26 years while they were both in high school. Gretchen remembers first meeting her love on a Friday night in April 1984.

“My friend Linda wanted to go hang out with a new boy named Tom. Tom brought along a friend named JR. The first time I saw JR, I was on a 3-wheeler and he was leaning up against a dirt bike.” To those who knew JR as an adult, his choice of resting post comes as little surprise.

JR loved hunting and being outdoors. He taught all three of his daughters (Kayleigh, 24; Melanie, 21; and Hannah, 18) how to hunt and fish. Many childhood photos and memories of his girls are clothed in camouflage and blaze orange. During the three years since his cancer diagnosis, JR put a priority on spending quality time with friends and family – often in the fields and woods of Arizona, Texas, and Washington hunting for deer or wild pigs.

JR was blessed to experience some life milestones during his three-year cancer fight.

In June 2015, he and Gretchen took a cruise to Alaska. It was a long-held promise and the first vacation the couple had ever taken by themselves.

In September 2015, JR walked his daughter Kayleigh down the aisle at her wedding. Both father and daughter had hankies as they danced to “Butterfly Kisses” by Bob Carlisle.

This past summer, JR and Gretchen took a meandering road trip without deadlines or itineraries. They ate BBQ in Kansas City, visited Mount Rushmore and Sturgis in South Dakota, paid their respects at the memorial for fallen police officers in Dallas, trekked into Carlsbad Caverns in New Mexico, survived JR’s first-ever tram ride to Sandia Peak near Albuquerque, and dutifully put arms and legs in four states at once at Four Corners.

Despite at least seven different types of chemotherapy, countless chemo treatments, and a stem cell transplant that left him quarantined at OHSU for one month, JR never lost sight of his goal to bring laughter and happiness to those around him.

"I'm at the point in my life where having fun and making people laugh are more important than being boring and worrying what people think,” JR explained when a photo of him wearing his favorite sock monkey hat appeared on Facebook. He would often wear the hat when he was busy working on weighty projects, to make sure nobody took things too seriously.

JR was also known as a prankster. Friends and family quickly smile and cry from laughter with stories involving JR setting off fireworks near a friend’s camping trailer, pantsing his brother-in-law in public, and giving his driving students a few extra life lessons along the way.

In the midst of the fun and goofiness, JR had a strong Christian faith. He profoundly believed that God loves everyone and forgives each person, no matter what transgressions we make in our lives. JR strove to extend this same forgiveness to those around him and to live by the Golden Rule of treating others the way he wished to be treated.

JR’s memorial service was held on December 17, 2016 at his home church in Battle Ground. Cherry Grove Friends Church was filled to capacity with friends, family, former co-workers, and past students. The ripples of JR’s life extended far as people traveled from throughout the Pacific Northwest, the Midwest, and Pennsylvania to celebrate and honor the impact of his life.

JR did not want his funeral to be one of sadness, crying, and somber black clothing. Instead, per his request, all those in attendance wore either camouflage or tie dye (what JR referred to as “urban camo”), many for the first time. Despite inevitable tears of sadness, there was much laughter and joy at seeing such a colorful clash of fashion. Just as JR wanted.

The family respectfully asks that any donations to celebrate JR Roberts’ life be made to a place very dear to his heart: Twin Rock Friends Camp, PO Box 6, Rockaway Beach, OR 97136

Friday, December 9, 2016

The Tale of the Tinsel Llama

It began with a weblink. No words, no explanation, no introduction. Because none were needed. My friend Robyn was certain I would know what to do when she sent me this:

I quickly replied:
OMG! I just showed it to Rob with great enthusiasm!! His response: "I used to like her." 
Lucky for me, I have my own credit card. Hahahahaha!!

Because I have an amiable husband who has resigned himself to a life decorated with llamas, within a few hours I had swiftly negotiated the agreement of acquiring TWO Tinsel Llamas to bring sparkly holiday camelid spirit to our front porch.

Figuring I would just order them online from Target, what with their free shipping and conveniently fast delivery, I jumped on their website only to discover several arresting facts:
  1. The Tinsel Llama is not available for shipping. It must be acquired in person and picked up at the store.
  2. My most proximate Target (17 miles away) was the only one – THE ONLY ONE – in the entire Portland metro with any Tinsel Llamas in stock. Specially, they warned “Limited stock.”
  3. The Portland Metro = within 100 miles of Woodhaven.
  4. The Tinsel Llama is a Target exclusive.
With a totally justified sense of urgency, Rob and I dashed to Target as soon as the Seahawks game was over (hey, I do have other obsessions). As Rob drove, my fancypants smartphone confirmed that our targeted Target still had “Limited stock.” I breathed easier because who knew what other llama freaks (Shannon) might be swopping in.

We arrived at the store, trotted to the back corner, and deftly located a Tinsel Llama on display. It was even more adorable in person. The socks alone! Daaaawww! They were like little llama legwarmers from the '80s!

I only dreamed of being this fashionable in 1982.

Pawing through the boxes, we found Tinsel Foxes and Tinsel Mooses and Tinsel Wiener Dogs. Alas no Tinsel Llamas.

Rob hunted down a woman sporting a red polo, khaki pants, and the all-important Walkie-Talkie Scanner Gizmo.

Despite the website’s claim to the contrary, the employee apologetically confirmed the store did not have any Tinsel Llamas in stock. I thought everything on the internet was true. Fie on you, internet!

The nice khakied lady checked and double checked and summoned her manager at our request. Mr. Manager wouldn’t budge from the store policy not to sell display units. Something about liability issues.

I bargained with the manager, quietly fingering the zip ties that were holding my Tinsel Llama hostage on the shelving unit.

“What if we agreed to sign something that said we release you and Target from any responsibility for any injuries that might come from the Tinsel Llama?”

“No. Sorry. Is there anything else I can help you with?”

To his credit, Mr. Manager Man maintained only a slightly exasperated, disinterested tone in the face of my llama zeal. Sadly, I doubt even trying to name drop by wearing my Rojo the Llama t-shirt would have helped my case. In fact, I sort of got the sense that might have only added to the manager’s not-quite-amused eye rolling.

My Tinsel Llama dreams dashed, I moped back to the car. On the way home, Rob and I both had the same idea.

Back at Woodhaven, we started punching zip codes of family members into the Target search field. Although no Tinsel Llamas were to be found near my family in Idaho, there was ONE left in a store about 15 minutes from Rob’s family in Southern California. OMG!!

At 7:30pm, I sent my mom-in-law a text explaining the dire circumstances and asking if I were to buy the ONE REMAINING Tinsel Llama in Orange County, would she and Dad be willing to go pick it up and ship it to me. I included this photo from the display at my Target so that she could fully appreciate the intensity of the situation.

Irresistible, right??

One hour and three agonizing minutes later, I got a text back that said, “Yes, we can do that.”

Hallelujah!! I clicked the “Purchase” button that my finger had been hovering over for about an hour. I then anxiously awaited a confirmation email that my order was ready to be picked up.

At 8:44am the next morning, I sent Nancy the heartbreaking news.

Not only did I get an email that the ONE REMAINING Tinsel Llama was no longer available at the Orange County store, my replacement order at a different store an hour away (Rob assured me it wasn’t too far – his dad loves to drive?) had already been cancelled because the internet lied AGAIN.

“I guess it wasn’t meant to find a home on our porch after all.”

Sad emoji.

After I thanked my most awesome in-laws for their willingness to be a part of my goofy llama quest, I found myself back on the Target website with my address book in hand.

Have no doubt, if I know your zip code and I thought there was the barest of possibilities I could bribe you into driving to a Target to pick up a llama lawn ornament, I checked all Targets within an hour’s drive of your house.

No Tinsel Llamas were to be found in certain parts of Texas. Or Indiana. Or Virginia. Or Iowa. Or Montana. Or Wyoming. Or Northern California. Or Arizona. Or North Dakota. Or Pennsylvania. Or Minnesota.

I did find THREE in a Target outside of Boston. I was ecstatic until I Googled the driving distances from the houses of my three Massachusetts friends. With the infamously bad Boston traffic, the small herd of Tinsel Llamas was at least 2 hours away from any of my Beantown friends. BOO!!!

At this point I decided it was best to accept reality. I busied myself with laundry as I tried to bat away visions of Tinsel Llamas dancing on our porch.

At 3:19pm, I received this text from Rob’s dad:

I sent him a selfie from our laundry room to speak the thousand words of my emotional state.

Yes, that is a Fa La La La Llama t-shirt.

Feeling only slightly guilty for being greedy, I texted back: “I have been given clearance to acquire two of them. Is there by any chance more than one there??”

“Not at this store,” Dad replied.

I assured him one was plenty and I danced victoriously amongst my lights and darks.

A mere 35 minutes later, the Best Father-in-Law in the World texted me this photo with the caption “Motto: The difficult gets done immediately… the impossible takes an hour or so longer. Love, Dad.”

This is now my most favorite picture of
my father-in-law EVER. Not just because there
are llamas in it but because Dad was
willing to go in search of them for me. ❤

I screamed. I startled the cats. And I called my amazing father-in-law and left a high-pitched, squeaky, hyperventilating voicemail informing Dad he is magical and wondering if he might be in Boston because by my in-depth research, that was the only location in North America with at least two Tinsel Llamas lurking about.

Dad has yet to reveal where or how exactly he accomplished the impossible. I suspect he never will. All I know is two boxes arrived at Woodhaven very recently. With some assembly required and la-la-la-la-la "I didn't read that part" warnings about the llamas not being toys and should not be played with, we now have two adorable Tinsel Llamas and one VERY HAPPY llama lover still giggling with joy.

The Story of the Tinsel Llamas (plural because there are TWO OF THEM!) will henceforth be added to the lore that is the legacy of the best father-in-law to ever walk the planet.

Who's the luckiest llama lady ever? Me!
Thank you, Dad and Nancy -- you guys are the BEST!!!

Monday, November 28, 2016

The swirl of life

It’s hard to believe that it was just three weeks ago that the world felt like it shifted off its axis. Don’t get me wrong; my Facebook feed is still frothing with political intensity on both sides. I’ve become so adept at scrolling past anything political, I actually made myself dizzy last week.

But in the midst of the protesting and calls for recounts and the confusion about who we are as a country, the universe has been making it very clear to me that day-to-day life still goes on.

I am a detail-oriented person. I like the nitty gritty of things. So I guess it is within character that my thoughts and spirit are pulled towards the more micro things in life: the people around me, my relationships, my community.

I am grateful there are people – many of my friends in fact – that are drawn towards the macro things. The policies, the philosophies, the patterns of history, and the desire to affect our global, cultural future. It gives me peace to know that those folks are handling the big stuff while I attend to the small.

And so in the wake of history, I have decided to leave the big world stuff to others while I tend the garden of my smaller world.

In just these past three weeks…

I found out a dear friend’s mother is taking her first steps down cancer’s path. And I have cried and prayed and felt utterly helpless as another dear friend's walk down that same path seems to be coming to an impetuous, unavoidable end.

I have rejoiced in the arrival of a friend’s beautiful grandbaby abounding with shiny black hair. And I have shared the heartbreak to learn he has meningitis.

I have been gobsmacked to learn of the disintegration of a marriage that I assumed was rock solid. And I have beamed with pure giggly girly joy watching a very eligible and patient woman realize she has finally found the man she’s been waiting for.

I have walked with a friend as she questions her faith. And I have listened awestruck to how a recent accident is reviving the faith of another.

I have been in the hospital waiting room anxiously waiting to see the surgeon smile and tell me Rob’s gallbladder removal was successful. And I have shared my physical therapy exercises spreadsheet with a friend whose rotator cuff surgery last week was a little more involved than expected.

I have lost sleep, I have cried, I have been mopey. And I have had tears of gratitude, literally skipped with delight, and wondered how in the world I ever got so lucky.

Life swirls, sometimes faster than we really think we can handle. Sometimes we are in the ripples, sometimes we are in the vortex. I’m so grateful that I always have people to hang onto…and that I can offer my hand as well.

Big world or small world, I think we’re supposed to swirl together.

Thursday, November 10, 2016

Democracy for the win

I’m not a political person. At least not publicly. I absolutely have opinions, some of them rather strongly held. But I do not enjoy discussing politics outside of my marriage.

Rob and I have a long history of seeing the world differently, casting votes that cancel each other out, listening intently to try to understand, all the while maintaining and nurturing deep and profound respect for each other.

As we have aged and walked through life together, Rob and I have definitely shaped and influenced each other. We have both moved more to the center from our once very polar posts. But we still have times of unabated political disagreement and we still live together in unabashed harmony.

If we are any example, it can be done.

The past couple of days have been historic. There have been a handful of times in my life in which I was mindful in the moment that I was witnessing history. I suspect I might always remember the moment when the startling reality came into view and I murmured to the TV, Rob, and the cat, “Oh my gosh, he might actually win.”

I didn’t vote for him. I didn’t vote for her either. Nevertheless I have found myself welling up with tears at the most unexpected things the past few days. But they are not tears of despair.

I teared up as I realized I was witnessing a revolution. I cried because of the profound beauty of democracy. There was clearly a large number of my fellow citizens who felt lost, ignored, dismissed, and discounted. And our system, while messy and painful at times, worked exactly as it was designed. The marginalized have an equal voice and they used it.

Despite the words of fear, anguish, and disgust riddling my Facebook feed, tears of pride welled up as I realized every single defeated friend accepts that they have to wait four years to enact a different outcome. We can disagree, we can be seething mad, we can protest and shout...but we each understand and embrace our system. The foundation of our system is not broken. It is strong and it is respected, even when it produces results we don’t like. That is a beautiful thing.

I cried the most, though, when I read the following exchange a friend posted about a conversation she had with her 4 year old daughter.

Ellie: "Did we find out who is the president?"
Me: "yes."
Ellie: "I think it's Donald Trump."
Me: "You are right. It is."
Ellie: "I hope he will be strong and kind. He will be a good president if he's strong and kind, right mama?"

Leave it to a child to narrow the focus to the real point. No politics, no name calling, no FBI investigations or resurfaced recordings. Just the barest, simplest, most discerning understanding of what is supremely important in a leader. And a sincerely open heart and mind to the possibility that it exists in our President Elect.

Our nation changed a few nights ago. Conventional wisdom on how to run a campaign, how to do polling, who turns out to vote, and what issues are heaviest on our hearts toppled over in dramatic fashion. There is unquestioningly more change to come.

But underneath the effects is a cause as strong as ever. Democracy is one of humanity’s greatest creations. I am proud and grateful to be governed by it.

Sunday, October 9, 2016

Gray matters

Around this time 16 years ago, I was getting myself psyched up for my first back surgery scheduled for a week before Christmas. At the time it was simply “my back surgery” because I didn’t fathom there being more than one.

I was very busy being busy, keeping myself distracted from the anxiety and fear. Work helped, a fabulous vacation across an ocean helped, and a harebrained idea knocking around inside my head helped.

In a staff meeting in November, I boldly announced to my coworkers that I was going to bleach my hair blond in honor of my surgery.

I figured being housebound for months would be a perfect time to do something dramatic with my appearance with plenty of time to change back to “normal” if it was an epic failure. Plus, more importantly, it gave me something different and more exciting to talk about than the impending fusion of several vertebrae in my lower back.

I also knew that if I finally shared my idea out loud, I would go through with it. No chickening out once I spoke it to the universe and my friends.

And so, the weekend before my surgery I spent several back-achingly painful hours in a salon chair unsuccessfully trying to become a platinum blond.

“You have very strong hair. This is the best I can do,” the colorist apologized as I gaped at the mirror.

When wet, my blond hair looked like a cross between Big Bird and the Heat Miser. When dry, it looked like this.

My surgeon didn't recognize me and my roots
were showing by the time I left the hospital a week later.
For months I looked like a skate rat.

(Urban Dictionary: "A skater that has nothing better to do than skateboard,
so he/she skateboards every day of the week, no matter the weather or
condition, out of sheer boredom or desire to go pro or get sponsored.")


Something instinctively told me I would look better with whiter hair than yellow hair. Clearly, yellow is not my best color. But I wonder if white is?

I’m seriously contemplating finding out.

I’ve been coloring my hair since my mid-20s. I started out just plucking out the grays but when that lead to cramping arms and hamster-nest collections of hair strands in the sink, I introduced myself to Miss Clairol. We were buddies for a long while until she decided to reformulate herself. I then found a new friend in this nice lady.

Although Truffle and I have had a monthly date for years, I’m starting to think I might be ready to consider ending our friendship.

For several years I have found myself fascinated by women who have younger faces and white or gray hair. I envy their boldness to ignore societal expectations. I am in awe of their sense of self and self-acceptance. I crave their freedom to not have to build in the ritual of plastic gloves and smelly chemicals and timers.

About 8 years ago, I read an unexpectedly liberating book called Going Gray by Anne Kreamer. I don’t recall many details about the book now, other than when looking at lots of before and after photos of women who took the gray plunge, they all seemed to share a striking and noticeable peace and serenity in their “after” photos.

It was that discovery that made me resolve to allow my now unknown natural hair color to reveal itself sooner rather than later.

I arbitrarily decided I would ditch the hair coloring by my 50th birthday. Easy to proclaim when one is 41. I’m now a few months shy of my 49th birthday. With the expected 4-6 months grow-out process, it’s about to get real if I am going to keep my promise to myself.

I’ve mentioned my Freedom to Be Me plans to a few people over the past year or so. Pretty much every man has been neutrally disinterested or very encouraging. Rob assures me he will find me beautiful whether I am a brunette or a silver vixen…just as long as I promise never to go blond again. Can’t say I blame him.

Another woman’s husband quietly shared that he wished his wife would consider going gray because he sees how much pressure she puts on herself to project an image that is increasingly not authentically her. What an unexpected insight!

Women have had mixed reactions. Some have told me I could totally rock gray or white hair. But most have warned me away from my idea; some even literally yelling “DON’T DO IT” before I can even finish my “I’m thinking of going gray for my 50th birthday” sentence. I honestly don’t know if they are rejecting the idea of me embracing my gray or of a woman in general doing so. I’m not sure which saddens me more.

And so, here and now, I am speaking my plans more publicly. Out loud. To the universe and my friends.

Partly to get my plans out of my head, partly to seek wisdom and suggestions from women who have blazed the silver trail ahead of me, and partly because about 5 weeks after I start this epic journey in several months, there will be no hiding or denying it.

So stay tuned! And if I wear hats for six months, you’ll know why.